Working to advance constructive solutions to extremism and human rights abuses through the stories of Muslim Americans, Harold Washington College alum Ahmed Flex Omar serves as deputy director for Chicago-based Muslim American Leadership Alliance (MALA), of which he is a co-founder. His journey from his home land of Somaliland to Chicago is a reflection of his philosophy of personal exploration and open-mindedness towards new experiences.
Ahmed and his family left what was then Somalia when he was three, during the political strife of the time. Having resettled in Abu Dhabi, Ahmed returned to Somalia in the 1990s and witnessed first-hand the devastation of his home country.
He and his sisters then joined his mother and an uncle in Chicago in 2001, and another relative referred him to Harold Washington College. Enrolling first with the intention of a business degree, he instead cultivated an interest he had since he was a child: information technology. He earned his associate degree in 2002.
Reaching that goal wasn’t always easy as he balanced classes with working a job as the sole breadwinner of his family; helping raise his siblings; and taking part in school activities such as HWC’s Student Government Association and Phi Theta Kappa honor society. But he found the Harold Washington faculty to be understanding of his personal challenges and supportive to the point that he often felt they had become family.
His transfer to Loyola University in 2003 found him working towards his bachelor’s degree in accounting and holding an internship with the investment banking company UBS. Upon graduation, he founded Global Eventz in Chicago, where he developed event marketing strategies, coordinated corporate events, and created traditional and online marketing campaigns for private clients in the hospitality industry.
Concerned about negative stereotypes of Muslims in the media and the role extremism was playing in the Muslim community, he was part of what began as a passion project but was to grow into MALA. He and his co-founders launched MALA in 2015, and soon after that, he was a delegate at the 2015 United Nations Non-Governmental Organization Conference. He was also a speaker at the 60th UN Women’s Commission on the Status of Women in 2016. That same year, he was also a recipient of the Presidential Service Award, presented to him by President Barack Obama.
He credits his success in part to the philosophy: “Be yourself. Be authentic. It’s what people are looking for at the end of the day.”